For those that think they know how to revel in autumn, think again. Discover why the Merano Grape Festival is the must-attend harvest celebration of the Alps.
If we were to pick one season to visit South Tyrol it would be autumn. Fall stamps a mountain-size exclamation point on all the enchanting elements that make this corner of Italy so alluring.
From the blazing foliage setting the mountainsides afire to the blissful fragrance of pluck-ready fruit perfuming the trails, the hand of autumn beautifies South Tyrol’s scenery more than any other season.
But do you know what we love even more than the pronounced natural beauty? How autumn enlivens the festive spirit of South Tyroleans.
Whether feasting your heart out in a timbered Buschenschank during Törggelen, relishing the best-smoked ham in the world beneath the thundering drama of the Dolomites or indulging in a bounty of other harvest festivals, a visit in fall leaves you with one impression above all: the people of South Tyrol know how to throw a party.
This jovial nature was never more apparent to us than this past October when we attended the annual Merano Grape Festival (also known as Traubenfest Meran and Festa dell’Uva Merano). In this post, we show you why experiencing the revelry of South Tyrol’s grandest fest is a must.
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History of the Merano Grape Festival
The Merano Grape Festival is the oldest harvest festival in South Tyrol. The celebration has a vibrant history dating back more than 130 years.
Each year since 1886, South Tyroleans have gathered the third weekend in October in Merano to salute a bountiful grape harvest. Over the course of three days, the city comes alive with traditional music, food and drink entwined with the fascinating folklore of South Tyrol’s wine-growing culture.
Through the decades, the Merano Grape Festival has surged in popularity attracting up to 20,000 revelers each year from around the world. Such festive luster shines welcoming light on the stellar wines of Italy’s smallest wine-growing region.
What to Expect at the Merano Grape Festival
The Merano Grape Festival boasts a fun-filled program spanning three days. Fest-goers can delight in a cultural experience teeming with entertainment.
Each day offers a multitude of outdoor concerts as well as culinary stands brimming with the seasonal specialties of South Tyrol. Most of these festival activities take place in the plazas and promenades near the Passer River.
Admission to the festival is free. However, special events like wine tastings and yodeling workshops require a ticket. Yes, you can try mastering the art of yodeling while in Merano!
The Merano Grape Festival Grand Parade
The highlight of the festival is the Grand Parade that takes place Sunday afternoon. The one-plus-hour-long procession is unlike any parade we have seen before.
The Grand Parade illuminates the flower-framed avenues of old town Merano with lushly decorated floats and carriages led by South Tyrol’s famous Haflinger horses. In fact, it is the only horse-drawn parade in all of the Alps.
In between the 40+ floats, marching bands from communities around Merano fill the air with song. In addition, the parade proudly showcases Schützen — members of a voluntary organization honoring the storied heritage of riflemen defending South Tyrol’s independence.
The parade even includes a glamorous appearance by Merano’s most famous resident: Sissi, the beloved Empress Elisabeth of Austria. In the 19th century, her beauty as well as her affection for Merano was unrivaled.
The most spectacular sight we saw during the parade was a hulking bunch of grapes hung from a log carried by two men. Second to that was a mighty crown made of red and gold apples from South Tyrol.
Feasting with Festival Royalty
Prior to the parade, revelers and local residents alike feast in the Festplatz — a garden draped in vines tinged with autumn’s kiss. Here, you will mingle with ladies and gents donning time-honored Tyrolean attire while listening to live folk music.
Being able to admire the ornate costumes and hats up close is as fun as watching the parade itself. The Festplatz is also a great place to socialize with other fest-goers. We spoke with a friendly couple from Germany who left us even more merry than our glasses of wine.
This bustling area of the Merano Grape Festival is sponsored by the Schützenkompanie Meran (SSKM) so you are sure to find a hearty fall dish to your liking. But as we learned, make sure to leave room for South Tyrolean Strauben. It is not to be missed.
Where to Stay for the Merano Grape Festival
Given how popular the Merano Grape Festival has become we recommend booking accommodations in Merano so you can easily reach the old town center on foot. You will want to avoid dealing with heavy vehicle traffic — especially on Sunday when some roads close for the Grand Parade.
Here are some of our top Merano Grape Festival accommodation recommendations in the heart of Merano:
Hotel Therme Meran (Terme Merano) – This modern luxury spa resort sits in the middle of Merano along the Passer river. It is connected by a tunnel to a stunning thermal spa and park where the pools possess healing properties thanks to mineral-rich water sourced from nearby Mt. Vigiljoch.
Hotel Aurora – Perched right on the Passer Promenade, Hotel Aurora is a family-owned gem with a location that cannot be beaten for the festival. The flower-drenched balconies offer sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and river below.
If you do not mind trekking a bit (20-40 minutes) to reach Merano, consider the following stays:
Hotel Erika – Located in the nearby village of Dorf Tirol, Hotel Erika is a jaw-dropping wellness oasis beaming from a mountainside amid vineyards and castles. You can easily reach Merano by taking the ravishing Tappeiner Promenade. This epic path is steps away from Hotel Erika.
Hotel Ansitz Plantitscherhof – Set conveniently in a regal neighborhood between Merano and the must-see Gardens of Trauttmansdorff, this boutique-style beauty wows guests with a rooftop spa and the opportunity to rent classic automobiles. Imagine cruising the Alps in a vintage Alfa Romero!
Of course, staying within walking distance of Merano is not necessary to visit the Merano Grape Festival. You might find it more convenient and affordable to book a cozy stay in neighboring Lana at the Landhaus am Gries or in Naturns at the Preidlhof Luxury Spa Resort. Public buses frequently run to Merano from these towns.
Tips for Attending the Merano Grape Festival
The Merano Grape Festival is still scheduled to take place in 2020. This year will be an abbreviated festival running from October 17-18.
No doubt all of the health and safety measures we have become accustomed to over the last several months will be in force during the event. But unfortunately, the Grand Parade will not be rolling over the cobblestones this year. The Merano tourism website states festival officials are hopeful it will return in 2021.
If you plan to attend the Merano Grape Festival in the future, we recommend the following:
- Book your hotel accommodations early
- Once in Merano, visit the Merano tourist office for a map of the town and to obtain the festival program guide. The staff will also gladly answer any questions and share any special events you might like
- Find a spot on the curb at least 30 minutes before the parade begins
- If you are not staying within walking distance of Merano, make reservations for dinner in town after the parade. This will allow the crowds to thin out so you can avoid traffic delays
We would like to give special thanks to the Merano Tourist Office for going above and beyond in helping us highlight the Merano Grape Festival for our readers!